Shit You Can’t Make Up

Bush’s nominee for the family planning department of Health and Human Services thinks giving birth control to women is demeaning.

The Bush administration has appointed a new chief of family-planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services who worked at a Christian pregnancy-counseling organization that regards the distribution of contraceptives as “demeaning to women.”

Eric Keroack, medical director for A Woman’s Concern, a nonprofit group based in Dorchester, Mass., will become deputy assistant secretary for population affairs in the next two weeks, department spokeswoman Christina Pearson said yesterday.

Keroack, an obstetrician-gynecologist, will advise Secretary Mike Leavitt on matters such as reproductive health and adolescent pregnancy. He will oversee $283 million in annual family-planning grants that, according to HHS, are “designed to provide access to contraceptive supplies and information to all who want and need them with priority given to low-income persons.”

The appointment, which does not require Senate confirmation, was the latest provocative personnel move by the White House since Democrats won control of Congress in this month’s midterm elections. President Bush last week pushed the Senate to confirm John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations and this week renominated six candidates for appellate court judgeships who have previously been blocked by lawmakers. Democrats said the moves belie Bush’s post-election promises of bipartisanship.

The Keroack appointment angered many family-planning advocates, who noted that A Woman’s Concern supports sexual abstinence until marriage, opposes contraception and does not distribute information promoting birth control at its six centers in eastern Massachusetts.


More evidence that distrust of cops is a good instinct

A UCLA student was tased multiple times yesterday when he failed to leave the library rapidly enough after a “random” check revealed he didn’t have his student ID with him. The guy’s name is “Tabatabainejad,” so we’re not all that convinced the check was random, but whatever. There’s video, taken by another student. It shows them repeatedly shocking the guy, at least a couple times for not standing up after being tased quickly enough. Nice. Even better? The cops threatened to tase anyone who got too close, and reportedly even threatened students who asked for their badge numbers and names. More coverage at CBS here.

These thugs need to be in jail, not enforcing the law. At a minimum, they should be personally liable in a civil suit. They have no business “enforcing” our laws.

No love for the Zune

So, Redmond’s shot at the portable music market is out, and the pundits have noticed. Unfortunately, the big boys (Mossberg at WSJ and Pogue at NYT) didn’t care for it, and now the mass market is weighing in. Check out this video clip from CNN’s morning show; it’s clear the anchors are pretty underwhelmed with what the Zune can’t do, and even go so far as to ask their gadgeteer “Why can’t they [Microsoft] get some good designers in there?” after the other announcer pulls out her new iPod Shuffle to brag about. Oops.

Oh, and it gets worse. First, instead of making the Zune store experience simple and clear, like the iTunes store, the Zune store is priced entirely in “points,” which Microsoft makes you buy in $5.00 lumps, even if you only want to buy one song. This translates into people making no-interest loans to Microsoft, which I don’t think is what people mean by “microfinance.” WTF?

We almost forgot! The Zune’s much-tauted “sharing” feature over WiFi works only for that — you cannot download music from your PC with Wifi at all. Also, if you share a song, it gets a 3-day time limit for your buddy even if you ripped the song from CD yourself (i.e., this limit is attached to songs not purchased from the Zune store). Speaking of DRM, not only will the Zune not play iTunes songs (which is huge, since the iTunes music store is one of the largest music retailers in the US — only Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, and Amazon sell more music), it also won’t play any songs from Microsoft’s previous effort at online music sales (known amusingly as “Plays4Sure”). That’s right: they expect you to buy that shit again. There’s more Zune Q and A here.

Finally, according to Microsoft itself, the Zune doesn’t work with Vista. Are those guys even trying? Yeah, we know it’s a first effort and all, but with a multi-billion-dollar war chest, you’d think they could make something that didn’t suck.

What fantastic mixing sounds like

Go here.

Skip the first 26 minutes or so. Starting at about 27:00, he starts mixing in six billion songs you know, but faster than you can identify them, and sometimes 3 or 4 at a time, and it almost always works. It’s astounding. He mixes the Spice Girls into Grand Master Flash, for Christ’s sake.

(Thanks Rob.)

Fucking A Right


There is no greater betrayal of the core principles of American political life than to have the federal government sweep people off the streets, throw them into a black hole with no contact with the outside world and no charges asserted of any kind, and simply keep them there for as long as the President desires — in al-Marri’s case, with respect to detention, now five years and counting.

As always, the most extraordinary and jarring aspect of cases like this one is that these principles — which were once the undebatable, immovable bedrock of our political system — are now openly debated and actively disputed by our own government. By itself it is astonishing — and highly revealing about where we are as a country — that such precepts even need to be defended at all. (Emph. added)

The new Democratic majority needs to fix this habeas problem NOW. We still can’t believe we’ve actually come to a place where it’s debated at all.

Anniversaries you probably missed

November 10 marked the 31st anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Until recently, we assumed said wreck (a) happened at some distant point in the nautical past and (b) on an ocean instead of during the Ford administration (and our lifetime) and on a (really big) lake.

The particulars, in case you’re interested but unable to click:

The Fitzgerald was a 729-foot, 26,600 ton capacity lake freighter launched in 1958; she was the largest boat on the Great Lakes until the 1970s, when thousand-foot ships arrived. Her primary job was hauling ore across Lake Superior.

On November 9, 1975, she left Superior, Wisconsin under the command of Ernest McSorley with a load of taconite bound for a steel mill near Detroit (not Cleveland, as Gordon Lightfoot sang). Weather turned bad as they crossed the lake, so they turned north towards the Canadian coast to try to avoid it. By the afternoon of the 10th, the ship had suffered minor damage from the storm; a nearby ship, the Anderson, reported heavy wave activity, and radioed the Fitzgerald to warn them. McSorley reported they were “holding their own,” which is the last anyone heard from them. The Fitzgerald went down with all 29 hands soon after, coming to rest in two large pieces more than 500 feet down. (That’s another part we have trouble with: “Holy Shit! There’s a lake 500 feet deep!” We suspect this is due to growing up in South Mississippi.)

Lightfoot’s hit song (it peaked at #2) came out only a year later; he was, for all practical purposes, writing about a current event, not a historical episode. We mention this every now and then, and we are continually surprised that our weird misapprehension is pretty common. “Really?” they say; “1975? Are you sure?” Yep.

And we wonder why no one will play Trivial Pursuit with us.

Can we all shut up about Louisville now?

Enormously overrated Louisville (#3!) lost to #15 Rutgers last night.

What IS it about these “unbeaten” or one-loss teams getting ranked highly despite playing few quality opponents? No, Rutgers isn’t really in the title hunt, either, despite their own unbeaten status. Louisville was Rutgers’ first ranked opponent, and they play in a creampuff conference. Louisville itself has only played a few real games, beating the shade-of-its-former-self Miami early in the season, plus a win over likely paper tiger West Virginia (another member of the Big East).

“Undefeated” is meaningless if you only play one or two serious games. Come play in a competitive conference and then see how well you do. We’ll wager any of the one- or two-loss SEC teams would wipe the floor with Louisville or Rutgers.

And the day keeps getting better

This morning, we got news of the GOP’s loss in the House and in governorships, and the likely split or loss of power in the Senate as well, and we smiled a little. Not a lot, mind you; if the American people had the brains God gave a dog, they’d have kicked Bush and his cronies to the curb in 2004 — or better yet, not elected this sorry bunch in the first place back in 2000. But we’ll take what we can get, and so we smiled a little.

Now CNN is reporting that Rummy is resigning (this after all the military papers called for his ouster last week), and our smile gets just a touch wider.

Colbert Weighs In

Heh heh heh heh heh:

We were THIS CLOSE to Jesus coming back. And you Republicans who turned your back on the President are going to wander in the desert for the next two years. Literally. Someone’s gonna have to replace those troops in Iraq.

And don’t think you’re off the hook, voters. You’re the ones who made this bed. Now you’re the ones who are gonna have to move over so a gay couple can sleep in it.

Tomorrow you’re all gonna wake up in a Brave New World. A world where the Constitution gets trampled by an army of terrorist clones created in a stem cell research lab run by homosexual doctors who sterilize their instruments over burning American flags. Where tax and spend Democrats take all your hard earned money and use it to buy electric cars for National Public Radio and teach evolution to illegal Immigrants. Oh! And everybody’s high! Wooooo!

The once-in-a-blue-moon football post

So, apparently this year features an NCAA rule change on kickoffs. Heretofore, as we understand it, time didn’t start ticking again until the receiving team touched the football. This year, under the new 3-2-5-e rule, time starts when the kicker touches the ball.

This sounds minor, but it opens the door for a pretty significant loophole, as shown here.

The linked blogger explains:

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema exploits the new 3-2-5-e rule, designed to shorten games. After scoring a touchdown with 23 seconds left in the first half against Penn State, the Badgers successfully run out the clock and keep the Penn State offense off the field by twice being offsides on the kickoff. As for shortening the game, this clip is 6:06 long (worth every second, in our opinion), meaning the final 23 seconds took much longer to run under 3-2-5-e than it would have under the old rules. And a good job by analyst Paul Maguire for picking up on what Bielema was up to. Because the rules can’t be changed in the middle of the season, we can only hope other coaches do the same to hasten the repeal of 3-2-5-e in the offseason.

It’s definitely a bit of a cheesy move, but well within the rules — and, of course, we can’t help but like just about anything that makes Paterno as mad as he clearly is at the end of this clip. Football Heathen? Holla back in commentland.

Update: We brought this up on a listserv we’re on, and another question cropped up: Why didn’t PSU just decline the penalty once it was clear what the Badgers were up to? Sure, their field position would suck, but having the ball is better than NOT having the ball. Is the answer that offsides is a “dead ball foul” and cannot be declined?



Jim Macdonald over at Electrolite sums it up:

A vote for a Republican, any Republican, is a vote for torture.

A vote for a Republican, any Republican, is a vote for corruption.

A vote for a Republican, any Republican, is a vote for cronyism.

A vote for a Republican, any Republican, is a vote against habeas corpus.

A vote for a Republican, any Republican, is a vote against our troops.

A vote for a Republican, any Republican, is a vote against liberty.

A vote for a Republican, any Republican, is a vote against the Constitution.

A vote for a Republican, any Republican, is a vote against being secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects.

A vote for a Republican, any Republican, is a vote against Social Security.

A vote for a Republican, any Republican, is a vote for “preemptive” war.

A vote for a Republican, any Republican, is a vote for incompetence.

A vote for a Republican, any Republican, is a vote for Bush.

Go out today. Vote Democratic.

Today is the first day of the struggle to take our country back.

The Rude Pundit puts it as, well, he tends to:

Why vote against Republicans? Because Fuck Them.


State Power and Inefficiency in Microcosm

We think there are plenty of examples of how fucked government is, but this example in particular shows the capricious and absurd nature of discretionary law enforcement. Precis? Internet fact-checker Snopes can’t give a straight answer on whether brackets around your plate are legal or not in Texas because several local law enforcement agencies in our fine state seem to enjoy being dicks about a statute that’s clearly aimed at something else (e.g., anti-camera screens and such for EZPass scofflaws), but is worded in a way that allows them to decide all decorative brackets are illegal.

Yes, Heathen got a ticket today. Yes, we were speeding. We don’t have a problem with that — it’s been a while; we’ll either get a ticket lawyer or take defensive driving. Big deal. The bullshit factor entered the equation when the cop wrote a ticket for “obstructed plate” because of the aforementioned vague law that, apparently HPD has decided to be jackasses about, and never mind legislative intent. Our plate number is absolutely crystal clear, and there’s also no doubt what state the plate comes from.

The real kicker: the cop pointed out that all I had to do was take off the bracket and the charge will be dismissed, so he knew he was writing a ticket for no good reason. This means HPD is issuing worthless paper as a policy, presumably for their own amusement, and they’re doing so based on a deliberately incorrect interpretation of the law.

The Houston Press weighed in on this governmental brilliance a few months back:

A Houston Press employee found out the hard way recently that Houston police are still giving out tickets for having a frame around your license plate.

Three years ago, a new, broadly written state law prohibited frames that obscured the readability of license plates. Car dealers then came up with new, smaller frames, but even if the only thing that’s obscured is the bottom half of “The Lone Star State,” you’re getting ticketed for it if HPD pulls you over for a more major violation.

“We tried to get them to be a little more bending on it and understanding,” says Walter Wainwright, president of the Houston Automobile Dealers Association.

Adding to the pointlessness is the fact that if you remove the frame after getting ticketed, the city will waive the $120 fine. And they pretty much assume you’ll do it; most prosecutors often don’t require a photo of the newly nude plate.

Which is fine for traffic-ticket lawyers. “I’d rather have a speeding case with an obstructed plate than just a plain speeding case,” says Robert Eutsler. “Because if you came to me with a plain speeding case and we got it dismissed, but you still had to pay money [for court costs], you may not be all that happy with my services…You can get the non-moving violation dismissed for free if you do probation for the speeding, so [a client] thinks, ‘Oh, I don’t have to pay that $120 fine on the obscured plate.'”

A ticket that almost never results in a fine — there’s got to be some point to it beyond making lawyers seem efficient, but damned if we know what it is.

And people wonder why we have a crime problem.

Johnny Reads Hunter

Dr Thompson’s best work, as read by one of our finer actors:

The bit in question, from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were here and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant . . . .

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time — and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened. My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights — or very early mornings — when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder’s jacket . . . booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) . . . but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that. There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere.

There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

Papers, Please

The DHS wants us all to have to obtain clearance to travel out of the country:

Forget no-fly lists. If Uncle Sam gets its way, beginning on Jan. 14, 2007, we’ll all be on no-fly lists, unless the government gives us permission to leave-or re-enter-the United States.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (HSA) has proposed that all airlines, cruise lines-even fishing boats-be required to obtain clearance for each passenger they propose taking into or out of the United States.

It doesn’t matter if you have a U.S. Passport – a “travel document” that now, absent a court order to the contrary, gives you a virtually unqualified right to enter or leave the United States, any time you want. When the DHS system comes into effect next January, if the agency says “no” to a clearance request, or doesn’t answer the request at all, you won’t be permitted to enter-or leave-the United States.

Bruce Weighs In on the Boarding Pass Guy

So, last week a guy named Christopher Soghoian created a fake boarding pass generator website. Big deal; that the whole boarding pass system is absurdly insecure is not news, right? Well, maybe and maybe not, since Chris got two visits from the Feds, and lost all his computer gear in the second such visit (which is hard to see as anything but an extralegal punitive measure).

Security expert Bruce Schneier has a bit to say about the whole affair. A bit:

Soghoian claims that he wanted to demonstrate the vulnerability. You could argue that he went about it in a stupid way, but I don’t think what he did is substantively worse than what I wrote in 2003. Or what Schumer described in 2005. Why is it that the person who demonstrates the vulnerability is vilified while the person who describes it is ignored? Or, even worse, the organization that causes it is ignored? Why are we shooting the messenger instead of discussing the problem?

As I wrote in 2005: “The vulnerability is obvious, but the general concepts are subtle. There are three things to authenticate: the identity of the traveler, the boarding pass and the computer record. Think of them as three points on the triangle. Under the current system, the boarding pass is compared to the traveler’s identity document, and then the boarding pass is compared with the computer record. But because the identity document is never compared with the computer record — the third leg of the triangle — it’s possible to create two different boarding passes and have no one notice. That’s why the attack works.”

The way to fix it is equally obvious: Verify the accuracy of the boarding passes at the security checkpoints. If passengers had to scan their boarding passes as they went through screening, the computer could verify that the boarding pass already matched to the photo ID also matched the data in the computer. Close the authentication triangle and the vulnerability disappears.

But before we start spending time and money and Transportation Security Administration agents, let’s be honest with ourselves: The photo ID requirement is no more than security theater. Its only security purpose is to check names against the no-fly list, which would still be a joke even if it weren’t so easy to circumvent. Identification is not a useful security measure here.

Interestingly enough, while the photo ID requirement is presented as an antiterrorism security measure, it is really an airline-business security measure. It was first implemented after the explosion of TWA Flight 800 over the Atlantic in 1996. The government originally thought a terrorist bomb was responsible, but the explosion was later shown to be an accident.

Unlike every other airplane security measure — including reinforcing cockpit doors, which could have prevented 9/11 — the airlines didn’t resist this one, because it solved a business problem: the resale of non-refundable tickets. Before the photo ID requirement, these tickets were regularly advertised in classified pages: “Round trip, New York to Los Angeles, 11/21-30, male, $100.” Since the airlines never checked IDs, anyone of the correct gender could use the ticket. Airlines hated that, and tried repeatedly to shut that market down. In 1996, the airlines were finally able to solve that problem and blame it on the FAA and terrorism.

Life and How To Live It

Late last week, our friend Xta posted a fine appreciation of life and living over on her site. In it, she mentions some monks who wake each day with the thought “today, I die,” to encourage them to live as well and fully as they can in each day they have. She had a serious health scare a bit ago, but came out fine — and with a renewed appreciation for this mortal coil:

Now I’m living as if each day is my last, because it could be. It could be yours. Really. And if it is: what do you want to do?

Of course, what falls out of that test may well turn out not to be so great, so be careful with the application of “Today I Die”:

I mean, it can’t possibly be healthy for my body or mind to spend each day sobbing uncontrollably and trying to eat as many Carl’s Jr. Western Bacon Cheeseburgers as I can before nightfall.


Some GOOD news, for once

Two bits of optimism-inspiring info from the tech side of the world:

  • Microsoft is threatening to withdraw from China because of the regime’s appalling human rights record. We’re unaccostomed to saying nice things about Redmond, but this is spot on. We here at Heathen believe Americans should act in ways that support the values on which this nation was founded; helping foreign governments perpetuate their tyranny is in now way an American value.

  • The FCC has smacked the shit out of Massport. The Massport goons were trying to force their tenants to stop offering free Wifi to travelers (specifically, Continental Airlines and the free wifi in their Presidents’ Clubs), which, as it turns out, is illegal. Only the FCC can regulate that spectrum, and they find Continental’s behavior to be perfectly reasonable — and also make it very clear that Massport’s arguments were utter bullshit designed to protect their own expensive-to-use Wifi solution.

Shockingly enough, this means we’re heaping praise on both the FCC and Microsoft in a single post. What’s the world coming to?